Who Runs the World?

International Day of the Girl Just Isn’t Radical Enough

Graphic Paku Daoust-Cloutier

Last year, the United Nations got together to adopt a resolution that International Day of the Girl would forevermore be observed on Oct. 11 to raise awareness of the situation of girls around the world.

I’m sure what the UN hoped I would think about was child brides, sexual violence, and the myriad of socio-political economic barriers women continue to face all over the globe. I’m sure they hoped I would feel a renewed vigour in the struggle for equality.

But unfortunately, that really wasn’t the feeling I was left with.

What immediately came to mind was girl power, sure. But it was more of an easy Spice-Girls kind of girl power—with a dash of Beyoncé fiercely dancing the patriarchy away in her faux-feminist, high-fashion video Run the World for contemporary measure.

And it’s hard, because while political awareness ought to focus on the millions of ways gendered, sexualized violence and subordination continue to affect the lives of young women all over the place, I can’t help but believe we’re doing it wrong. And I’m not alone.

Janet Pasken of the Wall Street Journal put it bluntly—and best—when she wrote that if we are to get serious about finally overturning patriarchy, “cupcakes, slogans and Days-of are not what is called for […] “We would do our girls a greater service by teaching them to get angry, to grow to be women who are entitled to justifiable rage.”

The problem here, perhaps, is that Day of the Girl is simply not radical enough to begin with. As angry as anyone may be about child brides and patriarchy, what is it about this day that inspires us to call our representatives, burn our metaphorical bras or get into the streets?

In a way, the creation of this day also negates the constant work of communities who are fighting this stuff at a localized level every day and could likely use some funding. How does a global goodwill initiative actually connect on the ground?

Though I appreciate the onslaught of media attention that invariably turns to “girls issues” for the 24-hour window of this new holiday, what about the other 364 days of the year? What, if any, material effects will Day of the Girl actually have in the real world?

Despite all of the good intentions, there are too many insidious issues that came to the forefront during the Day of the Girl last Thursday to make it really stick.

First off, its mandate is huge. Then, if you consider trans narratives, “girl” is fundamentally a problematic and exclusionary assignment to personhood. If you consider neo-colonial narratives, “the West” telling “the rest” what to do with its women is a questionable extension of globalized power.

Finally, when you consider the teeth this Day needs to stimulate adequate funding, implement real legislation or create cultural conditioning that might suddenly change entire attitudes about girls globally, the initiative looks pretty darn bleak indeed.

And while Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose was tweeting its praises all the day long—ironic at best given her government’s history of dealing with “girls’ issues” in our own country—we cannot be fooled into believing that the Day of the Girl’s existence is enough to shake up the changes necessary for a global girlhood revolution.

Especially while Western countries continue to cut family programs, stall reproductive health initiatives and fail to remedy increasing poverty and education issues in our own backyards. 

“The message is soft,” agreed Gen Rail, who is the principal of Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute of women’s and sexuality studies, when asked about the Day of the Girl. 

“While I’m not close enough to the UN to see the big picture, I’m not sure it’s going to do all that much,” said Rail, who participated in a McGill symposium entitled Girlhood Studies and the Politics of Place that coincided with the new day.

While Rail believes feminist research of girlhood has done much to illuminate intersecting political and socio-economic realities, she was a bit hesitant to totally embrace the Girl Day outfit.

“It might play some sort of role in the broader scheme of things, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of funding involved here,” she said. “If it means that light is shone on these issues, well, anything helps […] but I do wonder if this is government doubletalk.”

Holding governments and institutions to their promises is something that takes an enormous amount of time, constant public pressure and active organization on the ground floor of any given area, let alone on the world stage.

Consistent funding and implementation of girlhood research, as well as collaboration with women’s and community organizations who work every day for this cause might be a good, localized start. This day certainly feels like it needs a bit more precision. 

Did you personally do anything to mark International of the Girl? Hell, did you even know about it? Were you too busy celebrating the other days also marked by Oct. 11, such as Revolution Day, National Coming Out Day or Antifascist Uprising Day?

Don’t get me wrong: girls’ rights are absolutely a cause worth fighting for. It’s just that the tools and means of making these globalized initiatives into reality have got to seriously change. Rebranding girl power on any given day can really only take us so far.